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Assistant Professor of History 

Gannon College 

Reprinted from 
Vol. XXX, No. 4, January, 1945 




Assistant Professor of History 

Gannon College 

Reprinted from 

Vol. XXX, No. 4, January, 1945 


igitized by 

the Internet 


in 2013  


WHILE the most important facts in the lives of the men of the 
law can be gleaned from their legal decisions and political 
actions, the student may not overlook their domestic affairs, 
for very often explanations for their actions are only to be found in 
their private lives. So it was in the case of William Gaston, North 
Carolina legislator and jurist, an exemplary Catholic layman, friend 
of bishops and priests, kindly husband and father, and southern 

The training of a pious mother and the teaching and example of the 
Jesuit fathers at Georgetown College laid the basis of his remarkable 
career. William J. Gaston was born in New Bern, North Carolina on 
September 19, 1778, and became one of the most famous lawyers and 
jurists that state ever produced. 1 His father, Alexander, was active 
in the patriot cause before the outbreak of the Revolution and was 
killed by the Tories in the midst of the war. 

Dr. Alexander Gaston came to New Bern sometime before May 1, 
1764. 2 He was born in Ballymena, County Antrim, Ireland; the 
Gastons trace their family back to Jean Gaston, a French Huguenot, 
who fled to Scotland around 1640. Jean's three sons then fled from 
Scotland to Ireland some twenty-five years later and established the 
family there. Alexander came to America as a result of ill health. 

1 For a sketch of his life cf. J. H. Schauinger, "William Gaston, Southern 
Statesman," North Carolina Historical Revieiv (April, 1941). Cf. also J. H. 
Schauinger: "A Great Southern Catholic," United States Catholic Historical 
Society Records and Studies (1941), for an estimate of him by his contempo- 
raries; and id., "William Gaston and the Supreme Court of North Carolina," 
North Carolina Historical Review (April, 1944), for his legal career. 

2 Craven County (N. C.) Deed Book, II, May, 1764. MS. This is the first 
record of Dr. Gaston's presence in North Carolina. On May 1 he bought, at the 
sheriff's sale, 100 acres of land on the east side of Pamlico Road, it being part of 
Juniper Swamp, and for this he paid two pounds. He must have been here some 
time before that date. 




He had received his medical degree from the University of Edinburgh ; 
then joining the British navy as a physician he was with the fleet in 
1762 at the capture of Havana, but resigned his commission because of 
a fever caught during the campaign. 

In the ten years following his arrival at New Bern he became one 
of the most respected citizens of the town. During this time he ac- 
quired considerable land, including a plantation along Bryce's Creek, 
which ran into the Trent River about two miles from town. For his 
land outside of town he paid not quite a thousand pounds. 3 He also 
owned a lot in town. With the coming of the Revolution he found his 
sympathies lay with his adopted country and soon became one of the 
leading patriots of the community. When the Committee of Safety 
of New Bern was formed he was a member, and on March 4, 1775, he 
together with Richard Cogdell, Abner Nash, and others signed a 
memorial to remind the citizens of the rules and regulations of Con- 
gress, pleading with them to remain firm in the cause of liberty and 
to implore assistance from God for the success of Congress. 4 This 
was a dangerous thing to do, and the loyal governor, Josiah Martin, 
sent the names of these signers to the home government. 5 Sometime 
in May, although his fortunes were now definitely linked with the 
rebels, the Irish physician so captivated Margaret Sharpe, a young 
English woman who was making a temporary visit to the colonies, 
that she married him. 6 

Margaret Sharpe was born in Cumberland County, England, of a 
devout Catholic family, and was sent to a convent in Calais, France 

3 In May, 1764, Alexander bought the above-mentioned land, and also a half 
acre on Craven Street in the town for seventy pounds the following December. 
In 1767 he bought two hundred acres for £275. In July, 1768, 166 for £108; in 
August for £150 over 300 acres. In 1771 he bought 460 acres. The next year 
he purchased 520 acres on Bryce's Creek. In February, 1775, he bought a planta- 
tion for £300 as well as a lot in town, but sold both the following month. For the 
former he got £310. Cf. Deed Books of Craven County, II, 437; XII-XIII, 189; 
XV, 296; XV, 333 and 337; XIX, 70; XX, 102; XXI, 238, 251. 

4 North Carolina Colonial Records, IX, 1144. 

5 "State Papers on File in the Public Rolls of England concerning Colonial 
North Carolina," p. 186. MS, John H. Wheeler Papers, Library of Congress. 

6 There is no record of this marriage, nor has it been possible to determine the 
age of Alexander then. Evidently Margaret told her son, William, that the 
wedding took place sometime in May, 1775. 



for her education. She came to America to visit her two brothers, 
Joseph and Girarde, who were merchants in New Bern. At the time 
of her marriage Margaret was around twenty years old, having been 
born in 1755. The three childen of Alexander and Margaret were all 
born during the war ; the first, a son, died as an infant, William Joseph 
was born in 1778, and Jane two years later. 

In the days following his marriage the physician was one of the most 
active of the rebels in the district. In September he was appointed to 
the Provincial Council for New Bern. The colonial capital had been 
at New Bern, but Governor Martin had fled from there in June. The 
Committee of Safety was kept busy from the very beginning of the 
next year ; Cogdell, John Easton, William Thompson, William Tisdale, 
Richard Ellis, William Brown, and Dr. Gaston served on this com- 
mittee. In March, 1777, Gaston was appointed by the council as 
justice for Craven County, and in May he and James Davis were 
made judges for the District of New Bern. 7 By his activities Gaston 
had attracted the notice and aroused the ire of the Tories of that 
section, so he soon received their attention. In 1781 the British, 
based in Wilmington, made widespread raids through the state. When 
reports of their movement reached the physician he retired to his 
plantation, but as the alarm seemed groundless he returned home. 
On a Sunday, August 19, as he was eating breakfast a neighbor rushed 
in to report that the Redcoats were at hand. While Mrs. Gaston 
remained with the babies, their father hurried to the wharf to row 
across the river to his plantation. A band of Tories, led by the no- 
torious Captain John Cox, came ahead of the regular troops and com- 
pletely surprised the town. They galloped directly to the wharf and 
found the rebel patriot still within range. That night three-year old 
William and one-year old Jane went to bed orphans. 8 Mrs. Gaston's 
two brothers had already died sometime before this. 

7 North Carolina Colonial Records, XI, 710; XII, 109. 

8 In the Gaston MSS a document by William Gaston tells this story. In it he 
states that it was told him many times by his weeping mother. It was said that 
she hurried to the wharf when she heard the soldiers shooting. They were shooting 
wild, until Captain Cox took deliberate aim, and despite the pleas of Margaret, 
shot him dead. The New Bern Spectator of Dec. 19, 1834, takes to task the 
National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans (1834) for stating in the 
sketch of William Gaston that his father had left Mrs. Gaston and children on 
the wharf. 



Margaret Gaston never ceased to mourn her husband, wearing black 
until her death in 1811. At the time of her husband's death she was 
a woman of twenty-six years, with calm, grey eyes, a beautiful face, 
and stately carriage. She devoted herself to the care and education of 
her children, and became a nurse to the indigent sailors landing at 
New Bern. 9 

Mrs. Gaston was determined that her son should have a good edu- 
cation. Therefore, when she learned that a Catholic college would be 
opened in Maryland, at Georgetown, on the Potomac River, she im- 
mediately decided to send him there. So, in the spring of 1791, at 
the age of twelve, William Gaston left New Bern for college in the 
company of John Devereux, an old friend of the family. As the college 
was not yet opened when they arrived, Devereux took the boy to Phila- 
delphia, leaving him in charge of a Dominican priest, Francis Fleming. 
Gaston remained here about five months, from June to November, and 
lodged with a Mrs. Brewer at 74 Lumber Street. The youngster 
wrote his mother soon after his arrival that he had been "taking a full 
view" of the city, which he thought very handsome. To his eyes the 
streets were so similar that he felt it must be most difficult to tell them 
apart. Naturally knowing nothing of the city's rich pleasures, he con- 
fessed that "notwithstanding the beauty and variety that is in this place 
I still wish myself at home on account of the heat here ; what the reason 
is I don't know, for even walking in the place back of the town where 
there are but few houses it is very hot." 10 Perhaps he was homesick. 
Philadelphia at this time was the seat of the national government; 
Congress and President Washington were there. 

Father Fleming had come to Philadelphia in December, 1789, and 
was made pastor of St. Mary's Church. At one time he had been 
rector of the Irish College at Lisbon, and was an eloquent preacher 
and student. His sermon of March 17, 1790, printed by Matthew 
Carey, was the first on St. Patrick published in the United States. 

9 Elizabeth F. Ellet, The Women of the American Revolution, II, 159-165. 
Susan Gaston Donaldson gave the author material for her sketch. However, 
Mrs. Gaston could not have died in 1809, as Ellet states, for she made her will in 
March, 1810. 

10 Gaston to his mother, June 14, 1791, Gaston MSS. Unless otherwise stated 
reference to the Gaston MSS means the collection at the Library of the Uni- 
versity of North Carolina, Chapel Hill 



Bishop John Carroll made him vicar general of the northern district 
of the Diocese of Baltimore. When the yellow fever plague of 1793 
struck Philadelphia, those who had the means fled, but Fleming re- 
mained to care for the sick and dying, and as a result himself took the 
fever from which he died in October. 11 

Under Father Fleming's direction Gaston began to prepare for 
college. He got up in the morning at six o'clock to attend Mass. After 
breakfast he wrote French exercises until eight o'clock, and then went 
to an English school until noon. While waiting for his lunch he read 
Latin and Greek, and afterwards returned to his English class until 
five o'clock. The next hour he spent in Father Fleming's library, 
reading whatever the priest thought proper. Three times a week he 
went to one of the many French schools that dotted Philadelphia, 
where he remained for an hour. 12 By September he was able to tell 
his mother that he had learned "so much of the French language as 
to be able to hold a conversation tolerably well." 13 Finally, on Novem- 
ber 2, 1791, after a three-day journey by stage coach, the priest 
turned his young charge over to the president of Georgetown, 14 the 
Reverend Robert Plunkett. However, as the school was still incom- 
pleted, William lived with the president for the weeks before it opened 
and thus became its first student. Father Plunkett soon became very 
fond of the youth, attracted by his personality, manners, and mind. 
Plunkett wrote Mrs. Gaston several times to tell her how "Billy" was 
progressing and that he had gained the affection and esteem of all ; he 
was the first of many eminent figures to prophesy that North Carolina 
would one day have a native bishop in the person of Gaston. 15 The 
other professors were Father Francis Neale, Samuel Browne, and John 
de Mondesir; Neale became the seventh president of Georgetown in 
1810. Among the early students were Enoch and Benedict Fen wick ; 
the latter was to attain fame as the second Bishop of Boston. 

11 Francis Neale to Gaston, Dec. 11, 1793, Gaston MSS. 

12 Gaston to his mother, Aug. 25, 1791, Gaston MSS. 

13 Same to same, Sept. 16, 1791, Gaston MSS. 

14 Fleming to Mrs. Gaston, Nov. 7, 1791, Gaston MSS. 

15 Robert Plunkett to Mrs. Gaston, June 23, 1792. Also Sept, 19, Dec. [?] 1792; 
Jan. 21, Feb. 12, March 6, March 30, April 24, 1793. The fond mother kept all 
these letters about her son, as well as many letters he wrote her about school life 
from Georgetown and Princeton. 



The few students were soon joined by others until by June, 1792, 
there were forty. Gaston was the only one to board and room within 
the college as the rest of the boys lived in the town. The routine in 
general was that practiced in most colleges of the time. The boys arose 
at six o'clock in the morning and went to bed at half -past eight o'clock. 
Their courses consisted of English, Latin, Greek, French, arithmetic, 
elocution, geography and "use of the globe." Every day three and a 
half hours were set aside for recreation. In September, 1792, Gaston 
reported that the college had received so many new boys that the 
building had to be enlarged. In December of that year he caught a 
severe cold, and as he was unable to rid himself of it his mother feared 
consumption, and so she decided to bring him back to North Carolina. 
On April 25, 1793, after an absence of almost two years, Gaston left 
Georgetown for home. 

He spent the next year in the New Bern Academy, which was con- 
ducted by the Reverend Thomas Irving, a Presbyterian and graduate 
of Princeton. At the conclusion of the mid-term examinations an 
oration was "delivered by Mr. Gaston on the blessings of American 
Independence." 16 When the academy closed in the middle of July 
for the vacation it was Gaston who gave the valedictory, which the 
Gazette stated was delivered with singular eloquence, on the imposing 
theme of "The Rising Glory of America." 17 

The next fall, through the persuasion of Irving, Mrs. Gaston deter- 
mined to send her son to Princeton. Father Neale was opposed to this, 
so when young Will arrived in Philadelphia in September, 1794, the 
question was still undecided. Bishop John Carroll was brought into 
the discussion, and he finally gave his approval to the choice of Prince- 
ton. The myth that all southerners are gentlemen and that most 
northerners are "Yankee traders" was prevalent even at this early 
time. After Gaston arrived at Princeton and met several of his class- 
mates he was so surprised to find this was not entirely true that he 
exclaimed to his mother, "I never was more agreeably disappointed in 
my expectations. For compliance, civility, and good breeding I've 
scarcely seen their equals. Their behavior, in short, quite charmed 

16 New Bern Gazette, Jan. 4, 1794. 

17 New Bern Gazette, July 12, 1794. 



me." Before enrolling he came back to Philadelphia to spend the 
month before the college opened. 

During Gaston's second sojourn in Philadelphia he naturally took 
the time to seek out friends made during his former stay. Among 
those was Rembrandt Peale, son of the famous artist, Charles Willson 
Peale. Rembrandt later became almost as well known as his father ; 
at seventeen he painted a portrait of President Washington in three 
sittings. 18 Some two years before, Gaston had informed his mother 
that Rembrandt, then fifteen, had been converted to Catholicism, but 
that his father was bitterly opposed to this. Concerning this, Gaston 
said, "What he suffers from his parents and relations on that point 
you cannot conceive. On Friday and Saturday they would have 
nothing but meat .... and he would be obliged to have no dinner or 
make out with a piece of bread." 19 Some time after that Rembrandt 
had been able to convince his father that he was in earnest, and Mr. 
Peale then allowed his boy to enter a seminary to study for the priest- 
hood. However, this did not last long and during this brief visit in 
Philadelphia before continuing on to Princeton, Gaston found out that 
Peale had left the seminary "because of an affection for a girl." Al- 
though he remained a Catholic his friends feared for his faith because 
of her. 20 Their fears were later realized as Peale did not remain a 
Catholic. At this time the girls were also beginning to attract the 
youth from North Carolina. 

During Gaston's time the curriculum at Princeton included geogra- 
phy, logic, mathematics, natural and moral philosophy, astronomy, 
belles lettres, and chemistry. He was admitted to the junior class 
which included several other North Carolinians. As has always been 
the case with college students he had to write home several times for 
funds. Even before his arrival he wrote that $210 was not enough 
in those times, but that a little more would do as he behaved with a 
frugality he hoped no one could doubt. Here, as at Georgetown, 
students were required to pay semi-annually in advance, and Gaston 
was forced to borrow to make up the required $59. Board cost 
$2.50 a week, while each student was expected to cut his own wood. 21 

18 Congress later purchased this portrait. 

19 Gaston to his mother, Feb. 6, 1792, Gaston MSS. 

20 Same to same, Nov. 24, 1794, Gaston MSS. 

21 John Maclean, History of the College of New Jersey, p. 25. 


Noah Webster was one of the tutors, and there were about eighty- 
seven students. In 1796, at the age of eighteen, Gaston was graduated 
at the head of his class. Among the graduates of this class were Philip 
Pendleton of Virginia, John Berrien of Georgia, and Frederick Beas- 
ley of Maryland. Beasley remained the life-long friend of Gaston. 
The latter, after his graduation, went to Philadelphia to receive the 
sacraments of his Church, and then turned his steps toward home. 
Concerning this period of his life a friend later remarked that "he re- 
membered only one frolic in which Gaston was forced to retire to the 
cornfield." While in Philadelphia, after his graduation, James Peale 
painted his portrait. This exquisite miniature of young Gaston shows 
him attired in a waistcoat and a white, flowing cravat. The oval- 
shaped face with its delicately tinted cheeks, deep-set blue eyes (with 
eye-brows perfectly pointed as to seem almost molded or plucked), 
finely-chiseled nose, round deep chin and a firm, beautifully expressive 
mouth, all were framed against a mass of wavy, chestnut, powdered 
hair falling about and below the ears. 

On his return he found the family in a new home, for which his 
mother had expended seven hundred pounds. The old one had been 
destroyed during a conflagration which had swept New Bern, and 
but for the quick actions of Devereux its occupants might have perished 
with it. Other buildings had to be rebuilt, and the town obtained a 
"new, neat, elegant court house." There were, at this time, between 
seven hundred and a thousand houses. 

It was now necessary to determine what profession Gaston should 
follow, and it did not take long to decide that his talents best fitted 
him for the bar. At that time there were no law schools ; students of the 
law studied in the offices of practicing lawyers. Gaston was fortunate 
in this respect, for New Bern was the home of a brilliant lawyer, Fran- 
cois Xavier Martin. 22 For two years the youth studied under the 
future chief justice of Louisiana, and then on September 22, 1798, 

22 Cf. William W. Howes, "Francois X. Martin," Great American Lawyers, II, 
411-452. Martin had been a printer, and published several legal works besides 
compiling a history of North Carolina. He was an ardent Democrat and warm 
supporter of Thomas Jefferson. In 1809 he was appointed by President Madison 
a federal judge of the Mississippi Territory. He became the first attorney- 
general of Louisiana, then a judge of the state supreme court, and finally chief 
justice. He practically created the jurisprudence of this state, bringing order 
where chaos had before existed. 



was admitted to the bar. 23 He took the oath of allegiance before the 
clerk of the county court of Carteret, paid a tax of £10, and stepped 
forth from the building a lawyer, just three days after his twentieth 

A short time before this event his sister, Jane, had also begun her 
own career as the wife of John Louis Taylor, a lawyer of Fayette- 
ville. 24 That same year the general assembly elected him a judge of 
the superior court. With his elevation to the bench he became too 
busy to handle his extensive practice, and so he turned part of it over 
to his young brother-in-law. 

The next five years were busy ones for the young lawyer as he 
began to build up his reputation as a legislator and counsel. However, 
he also found time for social affairs as well as romance. A former 
classmate, writing him in 1800 for a recommendation, asked if he had 
"any new flame or was with an old one." Nancy Guion, the sister of 
his old friend and room-mate at Princeton, tried to arouse his interest, 
but Gaston had his eyes fixed elsewhere. While visiting his sister at 
Fayetteville he met Susan Hay, daughter of John Hay, a lawyer, and 
niece of William Barry Grove, one of the most prominent Federalists 
in North Carolina. Susan was the belle of the town, beautiful, lively, 
and the life of the younger set. Walter Troy, a student of Dr. William 
Hooper, exclaimed over her to his teacher, "Oh, Sir ! she is enough 
to melt the frigidity of a Stoic and excite rapture in the breast of a 
hermit." 25 

Gaston visited his sister often that summer of 1803 and found Susan 
waiting there for him. At the end of the summer he wrote his sister 

23 Licence, State of North Carolina, Gaston MSS. 

24 Cf. A. R. Newsome, "John Louis Taylor," Dictionary of American Biography, 
XVIII, 334. No biography of Taylor exists. Jane was seventeen when she 
married Taylor. She was his second wife; his first, Julia Rowan, by whom he had 
a daughter, had died. In 1811 Taylor was elected by the judges of the superior 
courts as their presiding justice. In 1819, when the supreme court was formed, 
mostly through the efforts of William Gaston, Taylor became the first chief 
justice of North Carolina. He was Federalist in politics and seemed to have in- 
fluenced William in this respect more than Martin did, as Gaston also became a 

25 "Letter from Hamilton C. Jones the Elder" (Feb. 2, 1819), North Carolina 
University Magazine, XXIII (April, 1893). Jones quotes from Dr. Wm. Hooper's 
Fifty Years Since. 



that this period had been the most pleasant of his life, and that he felt 
Susan was better calculated to render him more happy than anyone 
he had ever met. "Residing under the same roof with my dear Susan 
and enjoying her confidence I have had an opportunity of a more 
intimate acquaintance of her excellencies. To say that I love her more 
though would not be true," he concluded. Susan was sixteen and Wil- 
liam was twenty-five when they were married at Fayetteville on Sep- 
tember 4, 1803. 26 

The marriage seems to have taken place in the bride's home. The 
wedding over, the younger people rolled back the rugs in the large 
parlor and they danced and flirted and talked throughout the night, 
while the older and more sedate played cards and gossiped in other 
rooms. Outside the windows could be heard the soft murmur, the 
songs, and an occasional burst of laughter from the Negroes as they 
joined in the celebration. The couple took a short trip, and then 
returned to New Bern. Gaston began to gather the necessary ma- 
terial for the important Granville case and even to take in law stu- 
dents. The world looked bright for the young couple, but their happi- 
ness was of short duration, for on April 20, 1804, just eight months 
and sixteen days after the wedding, the young bride died. 

Although the blow was hard, Gaston was young, and the companion- 
ship of young ladies was not unwelcome. Hence it was not surprising 
that a year and a half later the widower again sought the altar. His 
bride was a distant cousin, Hannah McClure, the daughter of General 
William McClure. Their friends, noticing the deepening intimacy, 
laughed at her for calling him "cousin." She asked Gaston what 
should be substituted for this, saying "what will be pleasing that your 
Hannah would call you?" They were married in New Bern on Octo- 
ber 6, 1805, by Father Simon Felix Gallagher. The bride was nine- 
teen, the groom twenty-seven. 

This marriage was the occasion of an amusing mix-up, although it 
must not have seemed too entertaining to Gaston. There being no 
resident priest in North Carolina to solemnize the marriage he wrote 
his old friend, Bishop Carroll, for guidance. The bishop directed him 
to Father Gallagher of Charleston, South Carolina. Then the bishop 

26 Raleigh Register, Sept. 19, 1803. 



found that another priest was traveling through North Carolina, and 
this man wrote Gaston that he would be glad to serve him. Gaston 
then found he had on his hands two priests for the occasion, so he had 
to write both, requesting the attendance of the one who could with 
less inconvenience leave Charleston early in October. 27 

Hannah McClure was described by one of her contemporaries as a 
"woman of superior understanding whose disposition was frank and 
generous, with manners bland and unaffected ; although possessing an 
open and engaging countenance her features singlely could not be 
called beautiful." Red hair, big brown eyes, well-shaped nose, gener- 
ous lips, a firm chin made up these features. This same person as- 
serted that Hannah's secret charm and cordial expression of truth 
and sincerity with an added genial grace endeared her to all in New 
Bern. Her chief virtue seemed to be a practice of extensive charity. 28 

By this time Gaston was well established. In the April following 
his marriage he bought his wife a piano, paying $310 for it. A few 
days before this he had purchased two lots on Craven Street in New 
Bern, paying ^912 for one and ^250 for the other. 29 In 1817 he sold 
the latter lot which was at Front and Craven Streets, for $2325. 30 
Between this time and the outbreak of the War of 1812 he bought 320 
acres on Bryce's Creek for $1000, two lots in town and some other lots 
outside it for about $5000. 31 

Meanwhile there was also a growth in his family. The first child, a 
son, was born to the couple January 19, 1807, and named Alexander. 
A daughter, Susan, was born June 4, 1808, and Hannah arrived March 
18, 1811. 

Gaston was elected to the Thirteenth Congress, which met in May, 
1813, in special session to consider the problems raised by the recent 
declaration of war against Great Britain. Before its adjournment on 
August 2, 1813, urgent necessity called him home. The British had 
carried the war into North Carolina, and on July 13 rumor reached 

27 Gaston to Bishop John. Carroll, Oct. 25, 1805, Baltimore Cathedral Ar- 
chives, 3y2. Hereafter these archives will be referred to as: BCA. 

28 Raleigh Register, July 13, 1813. 

29 Deed Book of Craven County, XXXVI, 795 and 803. 
30 2Ibid., XXXIX, 749. 

31 Ibid., XXXVII, 919; XXXVIII, 217, 284, 285, 300, 301, 389. 



New Bern that the British were once more marching on the town. 
Hannah was visiting neighbors, the Dunns, when the news reached 
her, "communicated in an improper manner," and she immediately 
hurried home. She became more and more nervous and around 
eight o'clock in the evening was seized with violent convulsions. The 
family physician, Dr. Custis, was called, but the convulsions could 
not be stopped. At three o'clock in the morning she died, taking with 
her the unborn child whose advent she had so dreaded. John Donnell 
took the three children to Gaston's sister in Raleigh. 32 That same day 
Gaston was speaking in Congress on the necessity of having a fixed date 
to hear the report on foreign relations. Before the end of the month 
Gaston was in Raleigh, from which he soon returned sadly to his own 
home, there to remain until the next session of Congress that winter. 
The British had actually never reached New Bern. 

Gaston returned to Washington for the winter session of 1813-1814, 
and then again for the special session which came to an end on March 
3, 1815. He was re-elected to the Fourteenth Congress, which opened 
its proceedings on December 5, 1815. During this session society 
began to have more attractions for the handsome widower. With less 
to do in Crongress, he had more time for parties, balls, and boat rides. 
Friends began to notice his preference for the company of one of the 
daughters of Dr. Charles Worthington. 

It is to your goodness, Miss Worthington, I throw myself for forgive- 
ness in presuming thus to address you. In vain have I sought a fit 
occasion for personally communicating to you the holy secret of my 
soul. In society only have I the happiness to meet you and then I dare 
not even by a look intimate the emotion .... which it is a torture to 
suppress. ... I flatter myself this declaration will not be a shock . . . . 
others have perceived it ... . can it have escaped you .... that I hang 
with delight upon your conversation .... I thought it a feeling that 
could no longer animate a heart which has been accustomed to glow 
with the warmest affection, but which calamity has rendered torpid. 
If hope is illusory .... a simple blank return . . . , 33 

Gaston had enclosed in Eliza's letter one to her father, Dr. Charles 
Worthington, asking permission to speak to his daughter. The next 

32 Peter Custis to Gaston, July 16, 1813; John Donnell to same, July 13, 1813, 
Gaston MSS. 

33 Gaston to Eliza Ann Worthington, April 4, 1816, Gaston MSS. 



day he received an answer from the physician telling him to call, and 
that he would be received "in a manner you are entitled to from the 
preference by which you have distinguished my daughter." Within the 
month the question was settled and he became a daily visitor at the 
Worthington home in Georgetown. 

A few days after his avowal to Eliza the first session of the Four- 
teenth Congress adjourned. Gaston remained in Washington for 
about three weeks, then left for Raleigh where he had several cases 
to handle. Hannah had been dead for three years, and during this time 
the children lived with his sister in Raleigh. The thirty-eight year old 
widower started a steady stream of letters back to his fiancee. These 
tell of his activity of the moment and of past events. The first was 
written from Richmond. After telling her about the society there and 
a few minor incidents in which he had a part, he said, "There are a 
thousand things I'd like to tell you if I were near you, but cannot in 
writing speak to you .... as when seated in the corner of our favorite 
sofa when any and everything possesses charm. You may be sure 
that eight o'clock was never forgotten, but I can scarcely say that the 
remembrance of you was more intimately connected with that than 
any other hour. The living day was an eight o'clock." 34 Eight o'clock 
must have had a very special significance to the two, for a reference to 
that time constantly occurs in their letters. 

A week after writing this letter, May 5, 1816, he was in Raleigh, 
where he arrived weak with a fever. The country through which he 
had passed was parched with the drought and the dust was thick almost 
to suffocation. His daughters saw him in the distance, and their 
screams of delight brought Judge Taylor and his wife running to the 
road. Gaston remained in the capital long enough to attend the session 
of the court and then went on to New Bern, where he received his first 
letter from Eliza. Warning him not to write when he felt unwell, she 

I dreamed of you as pale and languid and couldn't sleep. For the sake 
of those who love you so dearly take care of yourself. . . . Don't you 
think it was indiscreet to travel sixty miles when sick. ... I was flat- 
tered you did stop on account of me. ... As "interested" is a favorite 
word of yours I'll use it. When you were here I thought I could not 

34 Same to same, May 5, 1816, Gaston MSS. 



freely write to you, but now I have to hold myself back. . . . Remember 
your tremulous accents on the evening of your departure and "remem- 
ber eight" .... a new and delightful sentiment is now in my heart, 
which is so much your own. 35 

On that same day Gaston wrote her to "congratulate Miss 

on her marriage this spring, which is a good season to marry in but her 
best friend seems to like the fall of the leaf .... in May is the season 
nature invites as you would know had you listened as I did to the 

mocking birds here " 

While he was in North Carolina Eliza was vacationing at Annapolis 
with a party of girl friends, whose charms were so alluring that Eliza 
confessed she would not introduce him to them until he was hers. 
There, even among the gaiety of the Maryland capital she thought of 
him, stealing away from the party below to write him. "I cannot be 
happy from your side. Never till now did I know how much I loved. 
There are fifteen of us here. Tonight there will be a large party of 
all the belles and beaus of Annapolis. " Toward the end of June while 
at a dance at the governor's mansion she slipped away from the floor, 
and in high glee related, "The girls think I am writing Papa and don't 
know what an interesting occupation I am engaged in." 

After a hard day at court Gaston relaxed in the evening at the 
Taylor's, where he played and talked with his children, telling them of 
Eliza, to whom he described their reactions at some length. He 
warned her not to think "because I speak of Susan more she is my 

favorite Hannah is intelligent, affectionate, and unaffected, and 

bears a striking resemblance to her mother, but Susan's age and 
reason . . . ." He spent a great deal of time between Raleigh and 
New Bern. Once he heard that his sister was very ill, so he hurried 
from New Bern to Raleigh in twenty-four hours, boasting to Eliza 
that this was "probably the shortest time it was ever done." 

It seems that a certain Major Lewis figured prominently in their love 
affair. His name was often mentioned by both. Asking about him 
Gaston became reminiscent, 

He has been uneasy for us for two years as he knew my anti-matri- 
monial stand and saw how we were becoming attached. I wish he 
would settle down. . . . Do you remember the evening at Mrs. Tayeves 
.... of the chess party the next night and of the night after, of the 

35 Eliza Worthington to Gaston, May 19, 1816, Gaston MSS. 



meeting at Mr. Carrol's .... of the Birth-Night Assembly .... of the 
steam boat party and the gaiety .... Mr. Mill's hints and Mrs. Lee's 
stronger ones .... how Matilda Chase noticed the interest of each 
others society we ourselves scarcely noticed. 
A charming letter of June 21, 1816, from Eliza deserves some quo- 
tation. It was headed Summer Hill and read, in part : 

To hear the voice of love whispering peace and comfort to the heart 
when it is oppressed and dissatisfied with itself is indeed happiness of 
such exquisite nature that language cannot do it justice. . . . What a 
valuable and blessed privilege it is that two hearts should be so united 
as to admit of such a delightful intercourse. . . . Letters have drawn us 
nearer each other. ... I wish I could feel worthy of such devoted 
love. . . . The clock is striking midnight. . . . 
From Germantown Eliza informed him that she would have four 
bridesmaids, so he would have to make arrangements for two more 
attendants. She suggested her brother, Dr. Nicholas Worthington, 
and Lieutenant Rodger s, who "was almost an agent of the affair in the 
beginning." Major Lewis and a Mr. Lee were to be the other two. 
The wedding was to take place in the Worthington home, with only 
intimate friends present. Gaston left North Carolina late in August, 
and on Tuesday evening, September 3, 1816, the two were married 
by Father John Grassi, president of Georgetown College. 36 If ar- 
rangements previously entered into were followed, the couple then 
left Washington for New Bern the middle of the month, arriving there 
about ten days later. 

When the second session of Congress convened Gaston brought 
the entire family back with him, and they lived during this time at 
his father-in-law's in Georgetown. Before the close of the session he 
had to return to Raleigh, but left them behind. Eliza took the chil- 
dren's education into her own hands. All rose at six, and from nine to 
eleven o'clock she taught them ; Susan practiced with her music lessons 
for an hour, and in the evening they rode either for a visit or simply 
for exercise. On September 27, 1817, their first child, whom they 
named Eliza, was born in the Worthington home. In early November, 
accompanied by her brother, Nicholas, Eliza set out with the children 
for New Bern, Gaston meeting them in Richmond. 

In the little town of his birth the third wife of the congressman 
found a warm welcome. Gaston's financial status was in such a good 
36 National Intelligencer, Sept. 5, 1816. 


state that he could afford to buy a fine home for his bride. April 17, 
1818, for $6000 he purchased from J. Groenendyke the beautiful 
colonial home, built around 1767, located on Craven and New Streets, 
with the lot 121 feet by 142 feet. The double veranda had a delicate 
railing, cunningly wrought, considered by many to be superior to that 
of the famous Stanly home. The boards of the outside of the house 
were evidently taken from only the hearts of large trees, for they were 
that wide. The spacious rooms of the house were beautifully paneled. 

That summer Eliza returned to Washington for a visit. In the late 
fall she was back in New Bern, from where she wrote her husband, 
who was at the state capital, that "the change in the weather has pro- 
duced acidity again, which plagues me not a little, but I live upon 
magnesia which I find is the only remedy. I am too important a per- 
sonage now to neglect anything that will keep me in tolerable health. 
You know the all important period is a month later and I am so appre- 
hensive." 37 January 6, 1819, Catherine Jane was born in the Gaston 
home. After the event anxiety was high as Eliza did not recover 
as she should ; thirteen days later her apprehensions were realized, for 
despite frantic efforts of their physician she quietly slipped into a 
lasting sleep. She was buried from Christ Church, the Reverend 
Richard S. Mason, Episcopalian minister, officiating at the funeral. 38 
The latter had also baptized her child, Nicholas Worthington, Jane 
Taylor and Susan being sponsors. 39 The blow was almost more than 
her husband could face, until he sought comfort in his religion. At 
forty-one he was widowed for the third time. 40 

37 Eliza to Gaston, Dec. 3, 1818, Gaston MSS. 

38 Register of Baptisms, Burials, and Marriages, Christ's Church, New Bern, 
N. C, p. 75. 

39 Ibid., p. 1. 

40 May 23, 1814 Gaston wrote the Archbishop of Baltimore for advice con- 
cerning a possible religious impediment to a marriage he was contemplating, 
which depended "on the probability that the individual with whom I might be 
disposed to form a union would not merely make a virtuous and agreeable help- 
mate, but also a faithful and affectionate mother to my bereaved children. To 
one individual my mind has been very forcibily directed as a person peculiarly 
fitted to secure both these objects. In infancy she was the playmate, and in more 
mature life has been the companion and bosom friend of my late inestimable 
wife. . . Her childhood was passed under the pious care of my venerable Mother, 
by whom at the request of a dying Father she was educated a Catholic ... I 
seriously looked forward to a declaration of my wishes when an obstacle suddenly 
presented itself which I had never anticipated." Gaston then asked the archbishop 
if the impediment was too serious for removal or if it existed at all. It seemed that 
the lady was god-mother of one of his children, which was the difficulty in question. 
The archbishop's answer is unknown, but Gaston thought better of taking the step. 
A few months later he told John Burghwin that he had thought for a while of 
doing this because of his children, but doubted the risk. BCA, 3Y4. 



At this time Alexander was twelve, Susan eleven, Hannah eight, 
Eliza Ann not yet two, and Catherine but a baby of two weeks. Gaston 
sent the two oldest girls to school at St. Joseph's in Emmitsburg, 
Maryland, Alexander to Mount Saint Mary's, Emmitsburg, and the 
babies were taken to his father-in-law's home in Georgetown. From 
this time dated Gaston's dependence upon his favorite child, Susan. 
His letters to her and the others are characteristic of the man. Not 
long after their departure for school, from the lonely home in New 
Bern, he wrote his eldest daughter, 

Remember, my dear Susan, that I look to you as my great and efficient 
coadjutor in the instruction of your sisters. You are charged not only 
with your welfare but theirs. ... I go where human comforts can only 
reach me through news of my children's well doing. Let me have 
this consolation. Let my solicitude and toils be cheered by learning 
that my darling daughters are running the race of virtue and knowl- 
edge and are growing daily in grace and favor with God and man. 
Guard against melancholy which is a foe to mental vigor and bodily 
health and is a species of treason against the divine law. 41 
Gaston kept them in this school of the renowned and virtuous 
Mother Seton until 1822, at which time the two were separated. In 
August he visited Philadelphia to make arrangements for Susan's 
further education, while Hannah remained at St. Joseph's. Before 
his visit Gaston had written Joseph Hopkinson, telling him of this 
project and asking his aid. Hopkinson, son of a signer of the Declara- 
tion of Independence, author of Hail Columbia, one of the foremost 
lawyers of his time, had been in Congress with Gaston, and the two 
soon formed a close friendship. Writing about Susan he further said, 
I had designed visiting Washington during the session of the Supreme 
Court and promised myself much pleasure from meeting with you there. 
But this promise like many other more important schemes in which I 
have been accustomed to indulge my fancy was but the harbinger of 
disappointment. A special criminal court called at this place about 
the end of January compelled me to forego the gratification of seeing 
my children and talking with all my friends. In the number of these 
I need not say that you are included. To use the homely but expres- 
sive phrase of my country 'I took to you mightily from the first.' You 
may be assured that I shall not pass through any place you are without 
giving you a call. 42 

41 Gaston to Susan, March 21, Feb. 28, 1820, Gaston MSS. 

42 Gaston to Joseph Hopkinson, March 22, 1822, Hopkinson Collection, Penn- 
sylvania State Historical Society, Philadelphia. 



Susan was received with love and kindness on her visits to the 
Hopkinson home during her schooling at Philadelphia. Gaston was 
delighted that his fifteen-year old daughter had found a place in their 
hearts, telling them "dear to me is my blue-eyed Susan." January 4, 
1823, in answer to Hopkinson's query he stated, 

I thank you for your friendly letter of December 16th, which I yes- 
terday received at Raleigh. The kind things you say of my child come 
home to my heart and favorably as I have always thought of your 
judgment I now set it up as unerring. You must take care therefore 
not to ask anything from me about her which you are not confident 
that it will be proper to grant. That she should occasionally and without 
[ — ] mingle in your family circle would afford me high gratification. 
But I believe it would be better that she should not frequently have this 
enjoyment. When a girl sees much society her mind is liable to be- 
come dissipated — serious studies are regarded as irksome and she is 
too apt to fancy herself a woman. My dear daughter has years yet 
in which I wish her to be considered and to consider herself a child. 
As to the Theatre — I could not refuse her permission, if she asked it, 
to see a play or two in the course of the season, but I could be quite as 
well pleased that she did not ask it. Such amusements can add nothing 
to her happiness and may give her an early fancy for dress, vanity, 
etc. I am engaged here in attendance on our supreme court and will 
probably be here detained throughout the months. Whether I can 
visit Philadelphia before next summer is as yet uncertain. Few things 
would give me greater enjoyment than to spend two or three weeks 
there. To see my child every day and to mingle familiarly with the 
delightful society of your city, with the learned and the gay and the 
polite, is among the highest gratifications which my fancy can con- 
ceive. 43 

He was troubled over the expense of his daughters' education, which 
he considered excessive. Entries upon his accounts, such as $230 for 
Alexander, $270 for Hannah, $300 for Susan, $500 for Hannah, were 
frequent. Concerning this worry, early in 1823, he confided to Hop- 
kinson : 

The charges attending my daughter's education are indeed incon- 
veniently high — more especially when I am solicitously engaged in 
paying off debts which a neglected profession, a mismanaged estate 
and confidence rashly bestowed caused to grow during my public 
career. I grudge them not — if they are necessary. Any plan which 
you or Mrs. Hopkinson will have the goodness to suggest by which 

43 Same to same, Jan. 4, 1823, Hopkinson Collection. 



they may be lessened will be gladly received. As I can not expect to 
see you earlier than July or August I would ask the favor of you not 
to postpone writing. If the excessive discount on state paper could be 
prevented it would be something. 
Then, turning to the subject of his daughter's welfare, he continued, 
"I rejoice to hear that Susan is well. Should you discover anything 
relating to her which you deem not exactly as it should be, in mind, 
manners, habit, fear not to let me know. My parental partiality de- 
ceives me much if she have not the material out of which an amiable 
woman may be educed. Skill and care in management are necessary — 
perhaps in regard to her, particularly necessary." 

However, this expense became so burdensome that later in the year 
he asked Archbishop Marechal for advice about schools in Baltimore. 
He told the archbishop he would like to have the two girls together so 
that the younger might by her sister's example correct an indolence of 
disposition, but the exorbitant price at Mrs. Ligaine's school in Phila- 
delphia, where Susan was placed, prevented the attendance of both 
there. 44 The advice of Roger B. Taney was also sought, but no satis- 
factory solution was found, so the twelve-year-old Hannah remained 
at Emmitsburg. 45 

After Susan's vacation that summer, in New Bern, Gaston was 
particularly anxious that she receive the best of care, for as he told 
his friend in Philadelphia, 

The coming year is of vast importance to Susan. It will be the last 
which she spends in school. Intent as she is on improvement she 
needs nothing but fit instructors and a proper plan of studies. Re- 
moved as I am from her I cannot enter into the details of her educa- 
tion. I ask it of your friendship from time to time to enquire into 
them — to ascertain what are the studies to which her attention is di- 
rected, whether she has the proper facilities, books, maps, etc., for 
prosecuting them, whether her teachers are of the best sort and use 
due diligence in instructing, and to direct such changes and give orders 
for such help as a father on the spot would deem himself authorized 
to make. Occasional inquiries about her health I beg may not be 

I will not apologize for thus troubling you for were I near one of 
your children and you far distant I should be vexed at the doubt which 

44 Gaston to Archbishop Marechal, Aug. 12, 1823, BCA, 17C2. 
46 R. B. Taney to Gaston, Aug. 7, 1823, Gaston MSS. 



an apology for charging me with its welfare would imply. Alexander 
goes home in two months and spends the winter with me. He is 
wonderfully grown. ... If I can succeed in converting a passion for 
military glory into an ambition for forensic distinction I hope to make 
something of him. 46 

Another problem soon was placed before the anxious parent by his 
friend, and his reply was probably not unexpected, but rather charac- 
teristic : 

I had the pleasure a few days since of receiving your kind letter. The 
interest you have the goodness to take in the welfare and improvement 
of my daughter is such I had expected from your friendship. I long 
to hear of your visits to her and of your opinion in regard to her 
progress. No change can be made which will diminish the expense 
of her education and as these are to continue but one year more I will 
submit to their extravagance without repining. No doubt you have 
in Philadelphia libraries of all sorts to which access may be had for a 
small charge. I wish Susan to have an opportunity of reading the best 
works of Bourdalane, Massillon, and Bossuet in the original and have 
recommended them to her for her Sunday reading. Will you be good 
enough to put her in the way of procuring them ? With a good voice 
she has an almost invincible repugnance to singing in company. As 
yOu may have the means be kind enough to use them for conquering 
this diffidence. You will see how freely I avail myself of your per- 
mission to trouble you with her concerns. 

On the subject of Susan seeing company I have a difficulty in forming 
a definite opinion. I am well aware that many advantages may be 
derived from it which she needs. Were I with her so as to be able to 
check at once any excess which an association with the fashionable 
and gay might threaten I would delight to bring her more into society. 
But as this cannot be, and as the main object of her stay in Philadel- 
phia is the cultivation of her mind I fear to hazard this by exposing 
her to the dissipation of amusements. 47 
At the end of the summer of 1824 Susan's school days were over, 
and she came home to become the mistress of the Gaston house in New 
Bern. For the next three years she retained this position until she 
found romance in the person of Robert Donaldson, a young Scotch 
merchant from New York City, who had financial interests in North 
Carolina. In giving his permission to the match Gaston told Donald- 
son, "I have confidence in the judgment of my daughter and cheerfully 

46 Gaston to Hopkinson, Aug. 26, 1823, Hopkinson Collection. 

47 Same to same, Sept. 21, 1823, Hopkinson Collection. 



give my approbation. She is a gift the value of which none can know 
as well as I. Long has she been my pride, joy, and solace." 48 They 
were married in Gaston's home on February 14, 1828, by Bishop 
John England. 49 The twenty-year old girl and her husband during the 
winter lived at Fayetteville, and in summer at his home in New York 
on the Hudson River, near that of Chancellor Kent. 

Hannah finished her education at a private school in Baltimore, and 
then returned to take Susan's place in the household, until her mar- 
riage to Mathias E. Manly, which took place on February 16, 1832, in 
the Gaston home ; the ceremony being performed by Father Richard S. 
Baker. 50 Manly was a young lawyer, well liked by his father-in-law, 
who held his legal talents in high respect. After Gaston's death Manly 
served on the bench of the state supreme court. A year before 
Hannah's marriage, Alexander had been married in Christ's Church 
by the Reverend J. R. Goodman to Eliza Jones, the daughter of Dr. 
Hugh Jones. 51 In the meanwhile Eliza and Catherine were attending 
school at the Georgetown Visitation Convent, where their bill for a 
year amounted to over $1000. 

After his appointment to the state supreme court Gaston had much 
more leisure time, so he used to go to New York each fall to visit 
Susan. While there he would spend long evenings with Chancellor 
Kent, and if possible would go farther north to visit other old friends. 
Story and Tichnor asked to be given "the earliest notice of your arrival 
in Boston," and a friend from North Carolina informed him that 
"Jeremiah Mason's beautiful daughter tells me that he frequently 
speaks of you as one of his favorite friends." 52 

With the marriage of his three eldest children Gaston now devoted 
most of his parental efforts to the two youngest, who were with him. 
When Manly had became involved in a political contest with a friend 
of the Gastons, the judge expressed relief that the latter had withdrawn 
and he warned his daughters not even to allude to it as "nothing is more 

48 Gaston to Robert Donaldson, June 2, 1827, Gaston MSS. 

49 Records of the Roman Catholic Church, New Bern, N. C. 

60 Ibid., 1832. 

61 Register . . . Christ's Church, p. 134. 

52 J. S. Jones to Gaston, Nov. 8, 1833, Gaston MSS. 



unfeminine as to take part in any political strife." Governor David L. 
Swain often visited Gaston and the girls. 

The three spent much of their time on the plantation, going there at 
least a day or two every week, especially so after the death of Hannah, 
who died on March 16, 1835, leaving a daughter, Jane Manly. The 
week following this the three spent in the country ; rising every morn- 
ing with the sun, they breakfasted at seven, and then rode horseback 
over the fields and hills till noon. Every afternoon they took a long 
walk, and tired out with their long day, they retired at nine o'clock. For 
some time Gaston had his son, Alexander, running his plantation at 
Bryce's Creek. His cotton often was shipped to Donaldson for dis- 
posal. Although Gaston was very proud of his rural standing, he was 
not much of a farmer, as an incident related of him by an old farmer 
indicates. It seems that Gaston took a neighborhood planter out to his 
plantation to view the work, and proudly pointed out how neatly the 
irrigation ditches were laid out. The farmer chuckled and to Gaston's 
chagrin demonstrated that although they looked very nice they were 
impractical as they ran in the wrong direction. Another amusing 
incident, often related by himself, occurred when he was riding in his 
gig past a schoolhouse and stopped at the sight of a small boy by the 
road ; Gaston spelled out loud, BA, ba, KER, ker, BAKER, to which 
the boy immediately replied, DAM, dam, FOOL, fool, DAM FOOL. 53 

The joy and delight he experienced in his children was well ex- 
pressed by him to his old friend, Dr. Beasley, "I rejoice to learn you 
are so blessed in your children. An old man, surrounded by affection- 
ate children whom he has trained up to virtue and usefulness, and by 
whom he is regarded with gratitude and reverence is to me one of the 
most interesting objects in the world." 

The name of Gaston is inextricably bound up with the Catholic 
Church in the state of North Carolina, and especially so in New Bern. 
The earliest known Catholics to be located there were the English 
merchants, Margaret Sharpe's brothers, who is 1774 lived in New 
Bern. There was no priest in the state at the time, and it is unknown 
what official presided at the marriage of Margaret and Alexander. 

63 I am indebted for these incidents to the Honorable R. A. Nunn of New Bern. 
An old farmer, whose father knew Gaston, related the incident to him. Cf. 
Gaston Republican, Gastonia, N. C., for June 14, 1917. 



The first priest to visit New Bern, and possibly the entire state, 
was Patrick Cleary, an Irishman, who had been a canon of the church 
of Funehal, and came to the town around 1784 to claim the property 
of his dead brother. Mrs. Gaston arranged one of the rooms of her 
house for a chapel where he celebrated Mass, which was attended by 
three or four other Catholics, including John Devereux. Father 
Cleary baptized a few children and performed other religious duties, 
but was in no position to give instructions as he spoke English with 
difficulty. He had not intended to remain long at this place, but the 
litigation over the property was so involved and extended over such a 
long period that the poor man was fated never again to leave New 
Bern. He died some time in 1790 and was buried in the cemetery of 
Christ's Church, where his grave may still be seen. As far as is 
known he was the first priest to be buried in the state and up to 1825 
seemed to be the only one. For some time after his death the few 
Catholics there were without the ministrations of a priest, but Mrs. 
Gaston instructed her children in the doctrines of the Church and 
taught them their prayers. 

When her son became a student of Georgetown College he soon came 
into contact with Bishop Carroll and told him of the situation in North 
Carolina. The bishop wished to send a priest into the state, but said 
he had none for the purpose. 54 When the lad was forced to leave the 
college his mother advised the president of the situation, and at the 
same time asked him to inform the bishop that if the latter would 
send a missionary into the state she would take care of part of the 
expenses involved. 55 However, nothing could be done by Bishop 
Carroll, for he simply did not have the priests. 

In 1798 another Irish clergyman, a certain Father Burke, came to 
New Bern from Norfolk, remaining but a short time. Some years 
later Father Gallagher came there to witness the wedding of William to 
Hannah McClure. In July, 1807, and June, 1808, Father Michael 
Lacy of Norfolk spent a few days in the town, attending to the spiritual 
needs of the few Catholics. Late in 1811, Margaret Gaston, William's 
mother, who had done more for the Church than any other person in 
the state, died and was buried in Cedar Grove Cemetery. 

54 Gaston to his mother, Nov. 24, 1792, Gaston MSS. 

55 Rev. F. Neale to Margaret Gaston, Oct. 18, 1793, Gaston MSS. 



Bishop Carroll had not forgotten the few Catholics of North Caro- 
lina and he told Gaston that he hoped to have a priest there some 
time. However, in replying to the bishop's letter of consolation over 
the death of his mother, Gaston informed him that he intended to visit 
the North that summer to choose a new home, which might be in Balti- 
more. Of this decision he said, "Tender and strong are the ties which 
bind me to my native state, but considerations of a paramount nature 
require of me to break them. I have a family of lovely and promising 
children, and I am above all things solicitious that they be reared in 
some place where a regular and stated observance of all the ordinances 
of the Church may keep alive and reimpress on their minds a sense of 
religious duty." 56 However, that summer war broke out with 
England; Gaston entered politics actively and was soon representing 
his state in Congress. The following year his wife, Hannah, died 
and the children went to live with his sister for a time. Gaston did not 
again seriously consider leaving the state, although Joseph Hopkinson 
tried to persuade him to move to Philadelphia. 

Meanwhile, Archbishop Carroll was not able to find a priest for the 
state, so that for several more years the people never saw one. Then, 
again from Norfolk, in 1819 and 1820, New Bern was visited by a priest 
who stayed a few days, the Reverend Nicholas Kearney. The latter 
year he remained a fortnight, preached several times, baptized a num- 
ber of children, and received three converts into the Church. 57 After 
Father Kearney's first visit Gaston wrote to Archbishop Marechal, 
requesting that a priest be sent to Washington, North Carolina. He 
told the archbishop that the priest's expenses would be paid by "Mr. 
Hanrahan and Mr. Leroy [of Washington], who will also furnish 
board, servants and horses. I will do the same at New Bern and he 
can stay at my house. I am solicitious for others of the Church who 
cannot have the same facilities and who long for an opportunity for 
practicing the duties of their religion." 58 Gaston had already placed 
his children in Catholic schools in the North as his last wife, Eliza 
Ann, had died in January, 1819. Although Marechal could not accede 

66 Gaston to Archbishop Carroll, Jan. 30, 1812, BCA, 3Y3. 

67 United States Catholic Miscellany, March 17, 1824. 
"Gaston to Archbishop Marechah Aug. 20, 1819, BCA, 17C1. 



to his request, it was not long before the state received the attention it 
desired in the person of Bishop John England of Charleston. 

John England was born in 1786 at Cork, Ireland, and was ordained 
a priest in 1809. He was consecrated as first Bishop of Charleston on 
September 21, 1820, and refused to take the customary oath of alle- 
giance to England, announcing his intention to become an American 
citizen. He arrived in Charleston December 30, 1820, to find that 
his diocese covered the States of South Carolina, North Carolina, and 
Georgia. Ten days after his arrival in the new diocese he wrote to 
Gaston for information on the state of religion in North Carolina. He 
told Gaston he had heard of his zeal for religion and counted on his 
aid. 59 The following May he informed Gaston of his approaching 
arrival in New Bern, and asked him to make proper arrangements for 
his preaching. 60 May 24, 1821, the first bishop to visit New Bern was 
welcomed at the Gaston home. Here, in the large ballroom in the front 
of the house, the bishop celebrated Mass. He remained in town until 
June 4, administering the sacraments, and at night preaching in the 
court house "always to a very large and respectable congregation." 
Before leaving the bishop appointed five of the principal Catholics to 
conduct services every Sunday at the little chapel in Gaston's home. 
The need of a church building was discussed, and a treasury was 
created to receive funds for the purpose; Gaston contributed $700; 
John Devereux $500 ; Peter Burghman $400 ; Francis Lamott $200, 
and Benjamin Good $200. Later a lot 106 feet by 199 feet was pur- 
chased from Richard L. Mason for $1500. 61 The bishop returned for 
a short visit the next November. 

His first appointment of a priest for the state, the Reverend Anthony 
O'Hannon, arrived in New Bern in May, 1822, but he remained 
scarcely two weeks because of poor health. The following year Bishop 

59 Bishop England to Gaston, Jan. 9, 1821, Gaston MSS. There are numerous 
references to Gaston and the history of the Catholic Church in North Carolina 
in Peter Guilday, Life and Times of John England, 2 Vols., (New York, 1927), 
as well as in The Works of John England, 7 Vols., edited by Sebastian G. Messmer 
(Cleveland, 1908). 

60 Bishop England to Gaston, May 17, 1821, American Catholic Historical 
Society Records and Studies, XVIII, 367. Hereafter referred to as: ACHS Re- 

61 Records of St. Paul's Church, New Bern N. C. 



England came back and at this time preached in the Presbyterian 
church, which was placed at his disposal. By this time the bishop 
had become a popular man in New Bern, not only because of his 
friendship with William Gaston, but also through his own radiating 
personality. During his visit there in February, 1824, he published a 
constitution for the Church in North Carolina, "with some few amend- 
ments suggested by the Honorable William Gaston." 62 St. Paul the 
Apostle was named the patron of the diocese. Gaston and Benjamin 
Good were appointed church wardens, and these two with Peter 
Brughman and Francis Lamott were made vestrymen. 63 By summer 
a priest, Father Francis O'Donoghue, was appointed to North Caro- 
lina. He was followed in 1833 by Father Peter Whelan, in 1834 by 
Father Richard S. Baker, in 1835 by Father John Fielding, in 1839 
by Father Andrew Doyle, and in 1841 by Father Edward Quigley. In 
1832 Bishop England figured there were 500 Catholics in North Caro- 
lina. He had difficulty in getting priests to remain in New Bern, for, 
as they told him, they received nothing there in support except what 
Gaston and Manly contributed. In 1838 there were two priests in the 
eastern section of the state, but difficulty was experienced in raising 
funds for their subsistence. Gaston wrote to the Catholics of Wash- 
ington, North Carolina, asking them to help provide for the traveling 
expenses of the priests. He told them that the Catholics of New Bern 
had already adopted such a plan. "It will be disgraceful to us if we 
cannot in this way insure $500 to $600 for the two. $100 will be con- 
tributed from here and I will answer for $100 or $150, if needed 
he concluded. 64 

In June, 1839, a resolution was adopted by the Catholics of New 
Bern to build a church, and on October 28, 1839, at a meeting in 
Gaston's office a plan for a church costing $4000 was submitted by 
William H. Burghman. It was found there was a balance of $500 
remaining in the treasury ; Gaston then pledged $500, Mathias Manly 
$500, and Bishop England $500 toward the new church. One of the 
town's residents, a Dr. Hays, who was a Protestant, had been inter- 

62 Carolina Sentinel, March 6, 1824. 

63 Records of St. Paul's Church, Feb. 15, 1824. 

64 Gaston to Benj. Laverrder, Jan. 22, 1838, Raleigh Diocesean Archives, 
Bishop's Residence, Raleigh, N. C. 



ested in the struggle of the Catholics, and left them in his will an estate 
valued at $1 100. A contract was drawn up between Gaston and Hardy 
Lanes to build the church for $3784.34 and work was started on it in 
1840. England told Gaston that "we will do nothing without you, we 
will do everything with you/' The following year it was finished, but 
it was not blessed until 1844 by England's successor, Bishop Reynolds. 

Bishop England was a man of extraordinary ability, courage and 
accomplishments. In 1822 he founded the first distinctively Catholic 
newspaper in the United States, the United States Catholic Miscellany, 
and also found time to prepare a new edition of the missal in English. 
In 1823 Eastern Florida was added to his administration. Chancellor 
James Kent felt that he had revived classical learning in South Caro- 
lina. Four times he went to Europe to collect funds for his impover- 
ished diocese. He was asked to speak before Congress in 1826, which 
was the first time a Catholic priest was so honored. After this event 
he talked to President John Quincy Adams, who expressed great sur- 
prise that Gaston was a Catholic church warden. 65 

England found in Gaston a firm friend and helpful worker. After 
establishing the Miscellany he was constantly writing Gaston for aid 
in the venture, asking for both funds and new subscribers. He also 
asked him to "translate some select edifying passage from some of 
those good books of which you are so fond .... or ... . write some- 
thing in the shape of a letter or of a paragraph or of a dissertation .... 
you will greatly relieve my editorial labors." He told him that he 
wished a candid opinion upon the paper and what improvement was 
necessary. Gaston's answer must have been frank, for later England 
hoped that he was better pleased with the paper than before. 66 In 1826 
England needed $1000 for the printing office, and again turned to his 
friend in North Carolina, remarking "I do not know whether you 
ought to be asked to add to your former loan under a better prospect 
of repayment, but if you could, any aid would be highly useful." 67 

Gaston's legal advice was often sought by Bishop England. Others 
also leaned on his legal knowledge and he was drawn slightly into the 

65 England to Gaston, Jan. 29, 1826, ACHS Records, XIX. 104. 

66 Same to same, Oct. 13, 1824, ACHS Records, XIX, 101. 

67 Same to same, Feb. 21, 1826, ACHS Records, XIX, 106. 



trustee trouble at St. Mary's Church in Philadelphia. 68 In the Harrold 
case Bishop England turned to him. 69 As early as 1823 Bishop 
England had asked Gaston if he could not procure a change in the 
thirty-second article of the state constitution of North Carolina, which 
seemed to disbar Catholics from holding office. Without Gaston's 
aid the priests who came to New Bern could not have been supported, 
nor could the church have been built. Bishop England baptized 
Gaston's grandchildren and his son-in-law. Manly, and married Susan 
to Robert Donaldson. He often expressed to Gaston his love for him 
and his children, and the two remained firm friends until England's 
death in 1842. 

Another bishop whose love for Gaston was as strong as that of 
England's was the first Bishop of Vincennes, Indiana, Simon Brute 
de Remur. Father Brute had been introduced to Gaston by Father 
Grassi at Georgetown College when the North Carolinian was in 
Congress. Between 1821 and 1836 Brute wrote at least one hundred 
and forty letters to Gaston. The two exchanged views on literature, 
art, and culture. Brute's letters were replete with spiritual matters, 
and he often asked Gaston's help in preparation of some dissertation. 

One of Father Brute's first assignments after coming to the United 
States was at Mount Saint Mary's College near Emmitsburg, Mary- 
land, of which he was a leading figure. While at Emmitsburg Brute 
had occasion often to see Gaston's children and kept the father informed 
concerning them. His letters were always filled with expressions of 
affection for his friend. He wished to see Gaston become a bishop in 
North Carolina, and often spoke to him of his desire. 70 When rumors 
reached him that Gaston might be nominated for the vice-presidency of 
the United States he was disturbed, saying, "I find no courage to wish 

68 Gaston to Joseph Hopkinson, June 12, 1822, Hopkinson Collection. 

69 England to Gaston, Nov. 7, 1829, ACHS Records, XIX, 140-143. The 
letters of Gaston to England were turned over to the Diocese of Charleston by 
the family, as they involved many ecclesiastical questions. They were accidently 
destroyed in a fire. 

70 Bishop Brute to Gaston. Dec. 7, 1828, Brute MSS, University of Notre Dame 
Archives. Hereafter these archives referred to as: AUND. For further informa- 
tion on Bishop Brute, cf. Sister M. Salesia Godecker's Simon Brute de Remur, 
First Bishop of Vincennes, (St. Meinrad, Indiana, 1931), and Theodore Maynard, 
The Reed and The Rock, (New York, 1942). 



that happiness to you, but to this country I wish it." 71 When Gaston's 
nephew, John Louis Taylor, was at Emmitsburg, Brute asked Gaston 
to preside at the commencement exercises, but because of his duties on 
the state supreme court the judge was unable to attend the affair. He 
had been greatly interested in his nephew's progress, as he had financed 
his education at the college. 72 After Brute became Bishop of Vin- 
cennes he told Gaston that he was reduced to begging openly; that 
when Gaston wrote to him he should pay the postage and ballast his 
letter with a note of $10, for he was as poor as Job. 73 Bishop Brute 
was often very critical of Bishop England's policies as far as the 
Miscellany was concerned, and felt that his esposual of the Irish cause 
in his paper was most unwise. He wrote Gaston several times, asking 
him to try to influence the Bishop of Charleston concerning the paper. 
In one letter to Gaston he cried, "It made me bleed along pages of the 
Miscellany, when all that candor .... why will he write before passion 
is cooled .... why no friend, no counsel with whom to read over. . . ," 74 

Gaston was always a pious Catholic and his religion influenced his 
daily life. His children were often edified to see their father walking 
up and down the grape arbor in the backyard reading his prayers from 
a missal or some other prayer book. It can truthfuly be said that he 
was the greatest Catholic of North Carolina, for the state has never 
produced another to equal him. 

In 1834 the General Assembly of North Carolina elected Gaston to 
the state supreme court, and he spent the last ten years of his life in 
that position. He declined to accept any other post, although import- 
ant public places were several times offered him. The following words 
are characteristic of his attitude in this respect : 

As the close of life approaches — calmly and gently as I thank God it 
does come on — I feel a constantly increasing desire, and believe that 

71 Brute to Gaston, July 27, 1832, Brute MSS, AUND. 

72 Idem. 

73 Brute to Gaston, Jan. 10, 1835, Brute MSS, AUND. 

74 Brute to Gaston, Aug. 14, ? , Brute MSS, AUND. The letters of Brute 
to Gaston are rich in information for the student of Brute. They are long, 
written sometimes in French, sometimes in English, with lengthy passages in 
Latin, or a combination of the three. At the time I used them they had not been 
used hitherto by any Brute student. I have been unable to find any of Gaston's 
letters to Brute. 



there is an increasing fitness, that I may be allowed to spend the 
remainder of my days in the discharge of accustomed duties .... re- 
mote from public glare, and exempt from the ambition of display. 75 
During court sessions in Raleigh he stayed with his sister, Jane 
Taylor, who had been a widow since 1829. The Taylor home was 
always full of children, and on winter evenings, if there were no com- 
pany, the children would usually gather around him for a story from 
Arabian Nights or sometimes a song. On clear and starry nights 
all would troop outside and the judge would point out the different 
stars and constellations to them. He loved the society of the young 
and they loved him. To most of their entertainments he received 
invitations, which he always accepted, if only to drop in for a few 
minutes, and he never missed the weddings of his young friends. 
When the session of the court was over he returned to New Bern, 
where his two youngest daughters and he would ride about the plan- 
tation and take long walks together. 

In April, 1837, another grief was thrust upon the family, as Eliza, 
the wife of Alexander, mother of their two young boys, William and 
Hugh, passed away at the age of twenty-nine. Two years later 
Alexander remarried; his bride this time was Sarah Murphy, who 
completely won the old judge's heart. 76 In September, 1842, Eliza 
asked his consent to marry George Graham, and two months later 
Gaston was writing from Baltimore to Mrs. Graham. She had been 
married by Archbishop Eccleston on November 14 in Washington, 
D. C. Alexander's debts became a source of worry, so his father 
worked out a solution to this problem by giving his son in advance 
his share of the inheritance and by arranging more lenient terms with 
Alexander's creditors. 77 Feeling that the education of his grandson, 
William, was being neglected, Gaston offered to finance it, by sending 

75 Gaston to James Ryder, S.J., President of Georgetown College, Nov. 24, 
1841, Georgetown University Archives. 

76 There is a tradition that one of these grandsons of Gaston while mortally 
wounded on a battlefield in the Civil War, was seen and consoled by President 
Lincoln, who remarked that he was acquainted with the reputation of his grand- 
father. Lieutenant William Gaston fell in battle with the Spokane Indians in 
Washington Territory on May 7, 1858, while Captain Hugh Gaston died fighting 
with the Confederates at the battle of Antietam. 

77 Gaston to Michael Hoke, Feb. 23, 1843, Chief Justice Hoke MSS, University 
of North Carolina Library Archives. 



the lad to Emmitsburg, Raleigh, or the New Bern Academy. He now 
had but one daughter, Kate, remaining with him as the rest of the 
children were married. 

In the summer following Eliza's marriage Gaston was involved in a 
serious accident, which made the use of crutches necessary for some 
time, and delayed his appearance at the summer term of the court. That 
winter, in December, 1843, he made his will. He left to Alexander's 
children, William, Hugh, and Susan one-third of all his land in Tennes- 
see and North Carolina and one-third of that on the south side of the 
Trent River ; two-thirds of the land on the Trent River went to Susan 
Jane Donaldson and to his granddaughter, Hannah Manly, with the 
exception of the tract inherited from his father on Bryce's Creek be- 
tween the Hotston and Bullen branches, the tract purchased from 
Nathaniel Smith, two tracts in Tennessee purchased from A. D. 
Murphy, and some others which he left to Katherine Jane Gaston and 
Eliza Graham. To his sister he left $100 a year for the rest of her 
life, and to his nephew, John Louis Taylor, he left $500. Finally, to 
the Catholic Church in New Bern he left $100 a year for five years. 78 

A few days before Christmas of 1843, in his last letter to his beloved 
daughter, Susan, he exclaimed "I fear that the whole family will never 
again meet in this world, but it is my humble supplication to Almighty 
God that we will be found together, not one cast away or left behind, 
in our home beyond the grave. . . ." 79 At this time Gaston had a 
slight stoop and was a little stout, although this was not noticeable as 
he stood a little over six feet in height. He had a florid complexion, 
and his dark hair, above the calm, blue eyes, was abundantly streaked 
with grey. He had reached a stage where shabby clothes meant 
nothing ; his sister often gave them away in order to force him to buy 
new apparel. 80 

On the morning of January 23, 1844, Gaston, after a cold shower 
which he took every morning, came in early to the Taylor home for 
breakfast. It was a fine sunny day, and he was in the best of spirits, 
entertaining the rest during the meal with a recitation from memory 

78 Craven County Will Book, D, p. 93. 

79 Gaston to Susan Donaldson, Dec. 22, 1843, Gaston MSS. 

80 Reminiscence of Miss L. N. Taylor, who was just past twenty at Gaston's 
death. Gaston MSS. 



of Johnson's poem, The Vanity of Human Wishes. After breakfast 
he spent another half-hour with them and then left for his office. That 
afternoon a divorce case was being heard in the supreme court. Dur- 
ing the arguments he took notes, but at two o'clock he became faint 
and sick at the stomach. He left the bench and started for home, but 
had to step into the governor's office, where he rested until a carriage 
was obtained. He was then taken to his office; his sister and Dr. 
Haywood were called, but it was three hours before he could be 
brought back from the unconscious state into which he had sunk. By 
this time his office was overflowing with friends, among whom were 
Chief Justice Ruffin, Governor Morehead, Attorney-General Whita- 
ker, and Charles Manly. After recovering consciousness he was never 
more brilliant in conversation as Greek, Latin, and poetry flowed from 
his lips, amid much joking and laughter. When Ruffin proposed 
applying a hot mustard-plaster he murmured in protest, " 'Tis astonish- 
ing, Ruffin, with how much fortitude you bear my troubles." 

Finally, in a moment of silence, he began to tell of a party which he 
had attended at Washington some years before. It seemed that there 
a certain Tobias Walker had avowed himself a free-thinker in religion. 
''From that day I always looked on that man with distrust," said 
Gaston, "I do not say that a free-thinker may not be an honorable 
man ; that he may not from high motive scorn to do a mean act ; but 
I dare not trust him." With solemn earnestness the judge sat up, and 
looking at those about him, emphatically declared "A belief in an over- 
ruling Divinity, who shapes our ends, whose eye is upon us, and who 
will reward us according to our deeds, is necessary. We must believe 
there is a God — All Wise and Almighty — " With the last word he 
sank back with a groan, and never uttered another word, for within 
five minutes death had claimed him. The merry voices in the office 
were now stilled, as eyes were dimmed with tears and flushed, laughing 
countenances became white and sorrowful. They found it hard to 
realize that this magnetic and beloved personality was no more. The 
only relative at hand was his sister, for the rest of the family were 
scattered. At eight o'clock that night his death was announced to the 
astonished people of Raleigh. He was buried in Raleigh, but later 
his remains were taken to New Bern for burial in old Cedar Grove 
Cemetery by the graves of his parents and daughter. The day his body 



arrived all business was suspended in the town, bells tolled, and flags 
were at half-mast. Everyone wore crepe for thirty days, and the 
Negroes of the town, in a meeting of their own, resolved upon the same 
procedure, besides voting to place a picture of the judge in every one 
of their homes. 

Attorney-General Whitaker said that the evening before his death 
Gaston had mentioned that death had no terrors to him, and that the 
years he had numbered were but so many steps in the completion of 
the journey assigned him by his Master. The resolution adopted by 
the bar of the state mentioned his "undeviating pursuit of the right 
which only an ardent and animating religious faith can bestow and 
adequately sustain." Judge John R. Donnell, one of his former law 
students, exclaimed, "His fame as a distinguished statesman and pro- 
found jurist belongs to his country .... and the pen of the historian 
will hand it down to the latest posterity. . . . We believe that he never 
did an intentional wrong. . . ." 81 All state newspapers praised his pure 
and spotless integrity, and almost every editor who noticed the event 
in other states commented about the manner of his death. This greatly 
impressed the country as it had those who were gathered around him 
at the end. It was characteristic of the man. 

J. Herman Schauinger 

Gannon College 

81 Circular, New Bern, Jan. 29, 1844.